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There has been quite a lot of buzz around Luke Sital-Singh‘s debut album ‘The Fire Inside’, going back all the way to his first EP release, ‘Fail For You’ in 2012. Sital-Singh has been tipped for success by the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph and BBC Radio. The album was featured recently on the 7th of August episode of Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on BBC 6music, and though Lamacq’s participants gave it a rather lukewarm reception, Sital-Singh’s anthemic choruses and refined folk ballads would seem to be a very comfortable fit for mainstream radio.
Cobbled together with tracks from Sital-Singh’s earlier EP releases (the aforementioned ‘Fail For You’ and 2013’s ‘Old Flint’ and ‘Tornados’) and newly written songs guided by the production assistance of Iain Archer (Jake Bugg, Tired Pony, Snow Patrol), ‘The Fire Inside’ alternates between moments of soaring optimism and quiet introspection. Musically, the songs are unapologetically melodic, built around the simple poetic rhythms and structures of Sital-Singh’s emotionally charged lyrics.
The main factor distinguishing Sital-Singh from many of his colleagues in the alt-folk genre is his exquisite singing voice. Though he has garnered comparisons to such singer-songwriters as Jeff Buckley and Bon Iver, the intense emotional quality of his vocals reminds me most strongly of Northern Irish songsmith Foy Vance. Sital-Singh’s delivery perfectly matches the range of sentiments in his songs, from the raw power of the chorus in album opener ‘Nothing Stays The Same” to the fragile falsetto of ‘Fail For You’.
The first three tracks on ‘The Fire Inside’, ‘Nothing Stays the Same’ and recent single ‘Greatest Lovers’ are instantly gratifying in that regard, with infectiously expansive refrains buoyed by a chorus of backing vocals. While the intimacy of the songs would play perfectly to a small room, the chorus of ‘Nothing Stays the Same’ seems equally appropriate for a stadium-sized sing-along: “Cry your eyes out, fill your lungs up / We all hurt, we all lie, and nothing stays the same”.
Sital-Singh balances out his gloriously unrestrained choruses with a few interesting stylistic twists. The over-eager ‘21st Century Heartbeat’ misses the mark slightly with its contrived lyrics, “I woke up hollow as an apple core / I’ve got so much purpose, I don’t know what for,” but it marks a welcome change of pace from the extravagant emotion of the songs preceding it. The dramatic piano-based ‘Lillywhite’ features stately brass and Sital-Singh’s beautifully executed falsetto, while the guileless optimism of ‘Nearly Morning’ plays out as a straightforward acoustic guitar ballad.
On standout track ‘I Have Been a Fire’, Sital-Singh turns a simple couplet structure into a remarkable display of textural and dynamic sensitivity, giving each section a different tonal color to match the unapologetically romantic lyrics and adding emotional texture with the distorted electric guitar solo in the bridge. The Bon Iver comparison becomes apparent in the double tracked vocals and amorphous structure of ‘Fail For You’, which serves as a quiet moment preceding the ambitious anthem ‘We Don’t Belong’. The album closes, appropriately enough, with the pure beauty of Sital-Singh’s voice in the ethereal ‘Benediction’.
‘The Fire Inside’ is an engaging display of artistry from a musician who has clearly taken the time to hone his skills. The songs are lovingly crafted and the recording is beautifully executed in every aspect. The album may not be earth-shattering in terms of its musical style or thematic material, but its emotional authenticity and the quality of Luke Sital-Singh’s musicianship are undeniable.
‘The Fire Inside’, Luke Sital-Singh‘s debut album, is out today, the 18th of August, on Parlophone Records. He’ll be touring the UK in September.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 14th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
While it may not be true in other musical genres, or even frowned upon as if it indicates lack of talent, collaboration in the genre of electronic music quite often leads to incredible results. Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, who began their careers in music as studio engineers doing support work for the likes of Pet Shop Boys and Robert Plant in the ’90s, have been doing their own music under the name Zero 7 for over a decade and a half. While it’s been over 13 years since their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Simple Things’, the duo have returned with help from a bevy of musical colleagues, including Los Angeles singer/songwriter Tommy Leonard, to create the ‘Simple Science’ EP, released next week.
Electronic music done beautifully is perfectly demonstrated in the title track, which features the vocal talents of Danny Pratt and backing vocals from Leonard. The press sheet describes it well as having a “Frankie Knuckles-esque arpeggio synth motif”, which shimmers like a jewel in the single/EP version that nears 8 minutes in length. That’s another thing that people who don’t favour electronic music seem to have a problem with: to understand this genre, you have to come to terms with a kind of music that begs to be savoured, where every percussive element stands out like a star on its own, yet is an important player in the whole.
Numbers like ‘Simple Science’ that are drawn out to a duration far beyond radio single play are drawn out for a reason, to prolong the bliss. The refrain of “should be simple science, but / you know I love you too much / we’re splitting atoms that are meant to join” compares the emotion of love to a scientific endeavour, a chemical reaction that makes sense (or should) and is a no-brainer. Well, until you realise that the act of loving someone is “not for the faint of heart” and leads to second guessing choices (“kiss the night goodbye / I fall into you every time”).
Just missing the 7-minute mark, ‘Red Blue & Green’ is, except for a few snatches of heavenly voices, an instrumental. It’s the kind of tune that you would expect soundtracking an upbeat yet chill segment at your local planetarium, while the stars dance and play with each other above your head. “Cosmically aware” would be the hippy dippy way of describing it. ‘Take Me Away’ is ultra funky from the start with an ace bass line, but as the vocals of South East London’s Only Girl begin, the song’s tone morphs into something more ethereal. It’s actually more satisfying when the main vocal line cuts back out around the halfway point of the track, allowing the bass line to command your attention as it frolics unfettered with the synths.
The EP is rounded out with handclap punctuated ‘U Know’, explained by the duo as “we knocked up after a long hang out at Block 9 at Glastonbury last year”. No matter where they came up with it or how you slice it, the synth chords the duo lays down and beats a-thudding will keep your pulse running at a feverish pace. It’s been 5 years since Zero 7′s fourth studio album; if this EP’s radiance is indicative of their game right now, it’s high time they thought about conceiving and recording album #5.
Zero 7′s new EP ‘Simple Science’ will be available in digital download format next Monday (the 18th of August) on Make Records. Available now are 12″ vinyl singles of ‘Simple Science’ (backed by ‘Red Blue & Green’) and ‘Take Me Away’ (backed by ‘U Know’).
Bedfordshire singer/songwriter Terry Emm’s third album ‘Starlight’ is an unabashedly sentimental collection of love songs, ranging in mood from reflective and wistful to sweetly uplifting. Following the admittedly dark mood of his previous album, 2012’s ‘Petals Fallen Off The Sun’, Emm says in the press release for ‘Starlight’ that he “was trying to get out of quite a dark place…and was needing a new approach creatively”. To that effect, he found himself collaborating with two musicians who had inspired him in the past, producer Michael Clarke (formerly of the band Clarkesville) and violinist Calina De La Mare (Sophia, Tindersticks).
While the dominant flavor of ‘Starlight’ is acoustic folk with minimal song structures and simple, straightforward lyrics, Emm has allowed Clarke and De La Mare to tincture the sound with their touches of their own style. De La Mare’s sensitive string arrangements are featured throughout the album, especially on opening track ‘Wilderness’ and standout track ‘Loved and Never Lost’ (video below). Clarke’s pop/rock sensibilities can be heard in the upbeat ‘Forever and After’ and the groovier ‘Resound’. Emm further tinkers with different musical choices in the bluesy guitar riff to ‘Is There an End to Your Love’.
Aside from those songs, however, there is surprisingly little variety on ‘Starlight’. The simplicity of the melodic lines is saved from monotony by the elegantly played acoustic guitar, but the unadorned vocal and musical phrases become a bit repetitive over the course of the album. The song structures are very basic and the pop style repeated choruses feel a bit lacking in dynamics and intensity.
Emm’s lyrics, while sweet and sincere, are similarly plain. The title track opens and closes with a poignant lyric, “It’s too late when I find you gone…”; otherwise his words are not particularly poetic or compelling. Unfortunately the square, undeveloped melodic lines amplify a couple of moments where the prosaic text doesn’t quite fit into the rhythm. Emm’s vocal delivery is likewise earnest but slightly awkward, with a slightly nasal tone that leans more toward declamatory speech than expressive singing. Some variety in either poetic choices or vocal timbre would have made a big difference, I suspect, in the overall mood of the album.
The final two tracks on ‘Starlight’ are among the prettiest of the 10 songs. The string melody behind the vocals in ‘Jetstreams’ illustrates the dreamy quality of the lyrics possibly better than the words themselves do. The delicately arranged, quietly sung ballad ‘Sunset’ is a perfect choice to draw the album to a close. Terry Emm’s poetry and vocal style may lack somewhat in elegance, but their straightforward expression is nonetheless heartfelt. Despite its shortcomings, ‘Starlight’ left me with a warm, mellow feeling that only the coldest of hearts could resist.
‘Starlight’ is available now on London boutique label Azez Records.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 12th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
At the end of 2013, Liam Fray revealed there was uncertainty about the Courteeners’ future, or at least doubt on when the Manchester indie rock/pop band would be appearing next at a venue near you. Speaking to Gigwise after a hometown arena show last December, Fray suggested it could be a year or more before they made another live appearance, stressing a “need to go away and decide which ones work best, what we like and reassess really for the next ‘phase’”. Clearly, these qualms didn’t last all that long; songwriting and recording for the group’s fourth album ‘Concrete Love’, to be released next Monday, must have surely commenced soon after.
The first taste of the new album appeared back in June. ‘Summer’ is an unabashed attempt at a summer smash, replete with a bouncy rhythm and feel good guitar strumming that puts you in an island state of mind. When the chorus comes in, there’s an echo effect placed on both the guitars and Fray’s voice that makes ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘You Overdid It Doll’ days of yore seem like a distance memory. For sure, the song has charm at this time of year, but are we really going to be listening to it when the leaves have fallen and winter has taken hold? Doubtful. Still, one could argue that if they’re going for single sales, it was a well-timed effort.
Funnily enough, it was Fray himself who said in that aforementioned Gigwise interview, “I definitely think that labels and producers whatever are putting all their eggs in one basket for two or three tracks. Whereas, I think it has to be about everything really, you have to try and make every song as big”. Maybe this is where they got ‘Concrete Love’ wrong? Each of these 11 tunes on the LP has elements that could be deemed ‘big’, but few have staying power. The collection also suffers from a lack of cohesiveness, as well as an ill-conceived song order.
In stark contrast to the sunniness of ‘Summer’, the album begins with ‘White Horses’ (seriously, what is up with rock stars and their preoccupation with equines?), which is dark, loud and bombastic, as if the Courteeners are trying to shed their pop image. It’s an emphatic beginning but some momentum and mood is lost as it’s directly followed by their current single ‘How Good It Was’. This sees the band embracing the pop/rock sound they’re most popular for, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not as catchy as ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’ from last year’s album ‘Anna’, it’s memorable, but if you’re sat listening to this album start to finish, it can feel like an uncomfortable segue.
Nearly halfway through the LP is ‘Black and Blue’: with its frenetic rhythm and Fray’s sometimes menacing cadences, it would have felt more appropriate on an EP with the similar ‘White Horses’ and can be regarded as a natural progression from 2012 single ‘Lose Control’. ‘Saboteur’ is this release’s ‘You Overdid It Doll’ moment, with funk, synths and squeals of guitar. Then there is ‘Next Time You Call’ – with a riff that appears to have been stolen from Elbow’s ‘Grounds for Divorce’ – has Northern swagger, something that there is sadly too little of on this album.
Most of the album’s pace slows to a near halt due to the balladry, in the form of ‘Small Bones’, ‘Has He Told You He Loves You Yet’, and ‘International’, and later on to close out the album with ‘Dreamers’ and ‘Beautiful Head’. These songs aren’t bad, but there isn’t much there to hold your attention for long. Fray’s vocals introducing ‘Small Bones’ are admirable in their sincerity, but the horn section that comes in soon after him seems heavy-handed and breaks the reverie. ‘International’ and ‘Beautiful Head’ have percussive bluster and piano so Coldplay-esque, it’s almost painful. As a result, the album feels schizophrenic: at their shows, are you supposed to jump up and down with abandon, or are you supposed to stand there static or perhaps gently swaying in place with your LED wristband? We’ll have to see how the new material fares at Reading and Leeds.
The Courteeners’ fourth album ‘Concrete Love’ will be out next Monday, the 18th of August, on Polydor Records. Visit the band’s Web site for more information on how to order signed copies of CDs; deluxe CDs including the ‘Live at Castlefield Bowl DVD, filmed in July 2013 in Manchester; and the album on limited edition white vinyl.
‘Sea When Absent’ is the third full-length release from A Sunny Day in Glasgow, but it is in many ways an album of firsts for the loosely Philadelphia-based band. After a series of lineup changes surrounding previous album ‘Ashes Grammar’, this LP marks the first time A Sunny Day in Glasgow have recorded as a full band; their prior recordings had mainly been the work of primary songwriter/instrumentalist Ben Daniels and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Josh Meakim. On ‘Sea When Absent’, vocalists Jen Goma and Anne Fredrickson have stepped in to write lyrics, melodies and string arrangements, while the band’s rhythm section, bassist Ryan Newmyer and drummer Adam Herndon, interlace the component parts of songs being composed from several different corners of the world.
While Daniels contributed from his Sydney, Australia home and Newmyer telecommuted from Brooklyn, Meakim recorded and engineered the album in Philadelphia alongside producer Jeff Zeigler (The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile). Working with a producer was another first for the band, but probably a necessary one, as the band attempted to move from its self-described “ambient maximalism” into a more approachable rock-oriented sound. The most notable change is in the recording of the vocals, which have been shifted to the forefront, allowing Goma and Fredrickson’s melodies to provide much-needed hooks into the thick and sprawling instrumental textures.
The lightly singable chorus to ‘In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry In The Tradition of Passing)’ allows a bit of a respite from an otherwise unrelentingly bright barrage of sound. (Take a listen and read the lyrics in the video below.) The amorphous tracks in the middle of the album create a blurry psychedelic ambience with flashes of brilliant color, such as the slight pentatonic feel in the instrumental interludes of ‘Crushin’’ and the diffusive impressionism of ‘Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It’s Ok])’. Final track ‘Golden Waves’ is a mishmash of sounds and styles, leaving the album in a state of mutable vacillation.
The songs on ‘Sea When Absent’ are never restricted by melodic form or lyrical direction; instead, the vocal lines and guitar riffs are woven into the constant motion of a deliberate musical evolution. As a result, the tracks are mesmerising, but a bit unwieldy for a casual listen. (The song titles are equally awkward. Of the 11 tracks on the album, 7 have parenthetical subtitles; one of those was too long for the album information data in iTunes, one is in Japanese, and another contains a sub-subtitle in square brackets.) Even with the band’s stated intent to refine their focus, ‘Sea When Absent’ is still a concentrated stream-of-consciousness, if such a thing exists.
‘Sea When Absent’ is available now on Lefse Records. Alongside the album, A Sunny Day in Glasgow have also released a new EP called ‘No Death’, available exclusively in independent UK record shops. The EP features two new tracks and three remixes. You can sample the Ice Choir remix of ‘Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)’ below.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 7th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
Back in the spring, Pixel Fix supported Young Kato, Made in Chelsea’s current darlings and a band I had high hopes for when I’d first written about them in 2012. At the time when I posted about the tour in February, I’d heard a couple bits from the Oxfordshire quartet and reckoned a huge programming mistake had been when they were chosen as support. A good 6 months out from then and listening to their latest release, the selection doesn’t seem as crazy as I had previously thought. Out this week, ‘Running Thin’ is an intriguing set of four songs, none really much like one another. Which is actually a good thing in my book. It’s a sign they’re a band of many talents.
The EP starts strongly with ‘Lungs’. It’s got a tropical vibe that is Friendly Fires-esque but the feel is more synth than bass driven, yet not as synthy as Polarsets. The at times staccatoing lyrics sung on irregular beats by Marcus Yates not unlike the style of Little Comets‘ Rob Coles except pop enough like that of Liam Creamer’s of Hey Sholay or Will Daunt’s of Zulu Winter (RIP) to allow for airplay on Huw Stephens’ Radio 1 programme. Okay, I know that’s a lot of band names to be bandying about, but it’s been bothering me that this song sounds like several groups I am quite fond of and it’s stirring up old memories and to be sure, they’re good ones that should serve Pixel Fix well in pursuing fans of any and all of these bands.
Second track ‘Change This’ is an interesting change from ‘Lungs’, as with its finger snaps and lounge-y vocals, it sees the band go towards a r&b jam, so it also has the potential for mainstream appeal. The synths are still there of course, but they’re left for background atmosphere as the focal point is Yates’ voice. ‘Still’ allows Pixel Fix to go back to their dreamier, more ambient roots. Barely over 2 minutes, it could have gone on much longer and us indie and electronic heads wouldn’t have batted an eye as what sounds like owls hooting lie underneath a catchy guitar line and ghostly synths, while those fingers keep a-snapping. The synths are then messed about with and compressed and stretched in EP closer ‘Overflow’; this one also has with finger snaps, but interestingly it seems to bridge the distance between ‘Lungs’ and ‘Change This’. The song has elements of pop but Yates’ voice isn’t frenetic, the notes gliding smoothly like skates across an ice rink.
The question is, then, where do Pixel Fix go from here? They clearly have a way with ambient soundscapes, while also doing well in the pop and r&b songwriting departments. Any one of these directions could lead the band to mainstream success.
Pixel Fix’s latest EP ‘Running Thin’ is out now on Owlbear Records but for now, you can stream the EP below to your heart’s content.
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